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Can Wi-Fi MANs Fly?

We're betting the whole Wi-Fi MAN wave will fizzle, a victim of technological naiveté and ill-considered business models. IEEE 802.11, a small-cell LAN technology, wasn't designed for this kind of application. When you try to deploy it on a citywide scale, the protocol overhead eats you alive. And because Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, interference problems will be immense--especially in the 2.4-GHz band, where most Wi-Fi networks operate.

There are business hurdles as well. If entrepreneurs build these systems, they'll want some ROI, and the cost of securing real estate for the APs will force them to impose high access fees. If they turn to high-gain, high-coverage or mesh-based Wi-Fi technologies, performance likely will be worse than that of dial-up. And if local governments get involved, we may have the wireless equivalent of the pothole problem. These cities might get Wi-Fi networks in the air, but it seems unlikely they'll stay up there for long.